Shutter Speed in Photography: The Essential Guide

Shutter Speed in Photography: The Essential Guide

a guide to shutter speed in photography

What is shutter swiftness in photography, and how would it affect your images?

Shutter speed is a foundational photographic concept – one that every beginner photographer must master. Once you know how to use shutter speed, you’ll be able to capture sharp photos at will, and you’ll also be prepared to catch interesting creative effects (such as a beautiful gradual shutter speed blur ).

In this article, I’m going to take you through all the shutter speed basics, including:

  • A simple definition of shutter speed
  • The results that shutter speed is wearing your images
  • The value of slow versus fast shutter speeds
  • How to use different shutter speeds regarding outstanding results.

So if you’re ready to become a shutter speed digital photography expert…

…then read on!

What is shutter speed in picture taking? A simple definition

Shutter speed is the length of time the digital camera shutter is open as the camera takes a photo . You press the shutter button, the shutter opens for a predetermined time period, then the shutter closes and the picture has been captured.

The longer the shutter is open, the more light that hits the digital camera sensor (or film, to get analog shooters); this has different effects, as discussed within the next section.

Note that shutter speed is sized in seconds (or fractions of a second). Here are a few standard shutter speeds:

  • 1/125s
  • 1/250s
  • 1/500s
  • 1/1000s
  • 1/1600s
  • 1/2000s

In fact , there are literally a large number of possible shutter speeds, all of which expose the camera messfühler to slightly different amounts of light.

How shutter speed impacts your photos

Shutter speed affects your pictures in a couple of key ways:

  1. This increases and decreases exposure
  2. It raises and decreases sharpness

Let’s have a look at each item in turn.

Shutter speed boosts and decreases exposure

The longer the particular shutter speed, the more light that hits your digital camera sensor – and the brighter the image gets .

So if you photograph a tree on 1/250s, then you drop the particular shutter speed to 1/60s, the second image, with the weaker shutter speed, will be noticeably brighter.

It has major consequences. Much of photography is about achieving the proper brightness , or even exposure , for a scene, and by adjusting the shutter speed, you will get different results. For this reason, shutter speed is one of the three digital camera exposure variables (along with aperture and ISO ).

So when you’re out with your camera, you’ll need to adjust the shutter velocity to achieve a nice, balanced exposure. The specifics will depend on the scene, but watch for blown-out highlights and clipped dark areas (i. e., make sure you don’t over or underexpose therefore heavily that you lose details in the lightest or dark parts of the photo).

Shutter speed increases and decreases sharpness

Faster shutter speeds freeze motion. Slower shutter speeds obnubilate motion.

So if you’re shooting a bird in air travel at 1/4000s, every feather will be crisp, even the flapping wings. But if you picture that same bird from 1/15s, it will be an indecipherable blur.

Now, the shutter speed necessary to freeze motion will change according to the speed of the moving objects. A feather drifting with the air may require a 1/200s shutter speed for maximum sharpness, while a fast-moving car may require 1/2000s or more.

shutter speed surfer action image

The too-slow shutter speed is among the main reasons why pictures appear blurry – so you should pay quite close attention to this setting. Always make sure it’s high enough to get the results you’re after.

How to set the shutter speed on your camera

The precise shutter speed mechanisms vary from camera in order to camera – but modifying the shutter speed is usually as simple as rotating the dial (to learn all the specifics, I recommend you check your camera manual).

Note that your ability to adjust the shutter speed will change depending on your camera setting.

If you are using Auto, your camera can select the shutter speed for you personally, and you will have zero ability to make changes.

If you use Manual mode , you can dial in the shutter velocity at will (and you can also go for your aperture and ISO).

If you use Shutter Priority mode , you can select the shutter speed, while your digital camera will select the aperture to have an optimal exposure.

If you use Aperture Priority setting, you can select the aperture, whilst your camera will pick the shutter speed for an ideal exposure.

Different modes are good for different circumstances, so don’t just choose a mode and stick to it; instead, learn to adjust your setting dial depending on your photographic needs.

Choosing the perfect shutter speed: step by step

Struggling to choose the perfect shutter speed? You’re not alone.

But while selecting the best shutter speed for your shooting circumstance might seem hard, it’s actually easy – once you have the hang of it. Here’s the two-step process I recommend:

Step 1 : Determine the particular lowest-possible shutter speed which will get you a sharp shot

Look at your picture. Ask yourself: Are any topics moving ? And if so , what shutter speed do I need to freeze them?

You’ll get good at determining the lowest-possible shutter speed over time, but at first, it will take a lot of trial and error. Here’s a list of minimum sharp shutter speeds to get you started:

  • Water flowing: 1/125s
  • People taking walks: 1/250s
  • People/animals running: 1/500s
  • Cars driving: 1/1000s
  • Birds flying: 1/2000s

fast shutter speed hummingbird with splashing water

Also note that, if your picture has zero movement, you are unable to simply select whatever shutter speed you like. If you’re handholding your camera, then your hands will shake, and this will certainly create blur – except if your shutter speed can be fast enough.

The lowest-possible handheld shutter speed varies from person to person, and it also depends on your lens (longer lenses increase camera shake). And thanks to image stabilization technology, some cameras and lenses allow for unbelievably slow handheld shooting. But I’d recommend keeping the shutter speed above 1/60s approximately for short lenses, and 1/160s or so for long lenses, at least until you have done some tests.

Of course , if you’re shooting a scene with no motion, you do have another choice: you can shoot with a tripod. Assuming your tripod is definitely sturdy, it really will let you drop your shutter speed as little as you like (which is how you can create beautiful moving water effects, as I discuss later in this article! ).

Step 2: Boost your shutter rate (or adjust other variables) for the proper exposure

At this point, you should know your own minimum shutter speed for a sharp shot. You should not drop below this rate – but you can always go above it, depending on your exposure needs.

If you’re in Manual mode, look at your camera’s exposure bar (in the viewfinder). If the picture is overexposed, go ahead and increase the shutter speed.

If you’re in Shutter Concern mode, your camera can automatically select an aperture for a good exposure. But feel free to raise the shutter quickness as long as your camera continues to choose an aperture you prefer.

On the other hand, if the scene is underexposed according to your camera’s exposure bar, you’ll need to change other camera settings to get the right exposure. Consider widening the particular aperture – but if this is not possible, you’ll need to raise the ISO.

Do not really drop the shutter speed, however. Preferable to increase the ISO for a loud image than to end up with undesirable blur.

And that’s it! To summarize: Start by identifying your lowest-possible shutter speed for a sharp shot, then simply make tweaks for the optimal direct exposure.

This way, you get a crisp photo – with a balanced exposure, as well.

Slow shutter speed photography

The advice I’ve given above is perfect for situations where you want to freeze a relocating subject.

But what if a sharp shot isn’t your goal? Imagine if, instead, you want to creatively blur your photo for a gorgeous effect?

You see, blur isn’t always bad; it can communicate motion, and it also can look truly breathtaking, as in this waterfall shot:

waterfalls slow shutter speed

Within deliberate motion-blur situations, you need to set your camera to Manual mode, then switch in the exact shutter speed you’re after.

At this point, you should check your camera’s exposure bar and adjust the aperture and/or ISO for a good exposure.

Note that you definitely need a tripod for this type of long-exposure photography. Otherwise, the entire photo will blur!

Pro tip: If you’re battling to get a slow enough shutter speed without overexposing the, consider using a neutral density filter , which blocks out lighting and is perfect for long direct exposure shooting.

On the other hand, you can shoot in near darkness (either indoors or even at night). That’s exactly how this subway image was captured:

subway moving fast light trails

Shutter speed in pictures: final words

Now that you’ve finished this informative article, you’re well equipped to generate some gorgeous photos.

So head out with your camera and test out different shutter speeds. Get familiar with your options. And test the two-step process I outlined above!

Now over to you:

How do you intend to select your shutter velocity from now on? Do you have any shutter speed tips? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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